Rudi turned and perched on the windowsill and looked around the flat. It was two years since anyone had tried to kill him. Something was wrong.
Dave Hutchinson has come a ways since he published Europe in Autumn, the first book in the Fractured Europe series. For one, a series has emerged from what was originally supposed to be a stand-alone novel. But things took off due to popular and critical acclaim (BSFA and Clarke nominations), and the blending of SF and spy novel—set in an evocative near-future Europe fragmenting into a morass of polities and micro-states—proved a winning formula. Its sequel, Europe at Midnight, was released last year; that volume focused on the more SFnal element of the series, the Community, a high-tech pocket dimension overlapping Europe. Now, Europe in Winter marks the third of (at least) four volumes: Europe in Winter, with Europe at Dawn slated for release next year.
Oh, and for a series whose themes are rooted in politics and the malleability of borders, it’s odd to note the real-world political events that somewhat mirror each novel’s release. The first novel was published eight months before the Scottish independence referendum, while the second preceded Brexit by some seven months. I have to wonder what European political upheaval this volume coincides with.
Solaris – 2016.
Scattered across Europe are acts of violence and mystery, and while these go unnoticed by many, the shockwaves are felt by those in power—and those with an ear for secrets—across Europe:
- In Russia, a group of terrorists infiltrates the Line—the sovereign nation-state that exists as a transcontinental rail line—and when they detonate their bomb, the explosion from train’s fusion engines levels a small mountain.
- In Siberia, an assassin kills an enigmatic foreign dignitary under the noses of his bodyguards, before disappearing off the grid.
- A server bank draws immense computing power in Dresden—now its own independent city-state, one of many such polities that have sprung into existence as Europe fractures and balkanizes. This is more computing power than any government needs, yet here it is, running a series of simulations and predictions… to what end?
- Across the continent, Europeans exchange hostages with members of the Community—a high-tech pocket-dimension spanning as much space as Europe, created in the image of the English countryside circa 1930—even as it enters into Union, a joining of the two distrustful powers.
Who is behind these seemingly unrelated but far-reaching events, and to what end? That is the problem facing Rudi, a former cook turned spy when he joined the mysterious Les Coureurs des Bois. Rudi sets out to uncover the truth, aided by a motley crew of intelligence agents, sleeper cells, mafiosi, and unlucky civilians who know just a bit too much. The search will uncover truths Rudi would never have expected, striking as close to home as his father’s lodge in Estonia and as far away as another dimension.
The Fractured Europe Series has built its success on blending near-future SF with Le Carre-style espionage, and Europe in Winter does not disappoint. The espionage is just as intriguing, if not moreso, than the previous volumes; if anything, Hutchinson has only improved here, offering a more complex mystery for Rudi to unravel and raising the stakes considerably. The series has always had a strong spy-espionage angle, but the first volume seemed as much (or more) a portrait of post-EU Europe, while Europe in Winter puts the espionage elements front and center. It does return to the roots of Europe in Autumn, not just from the espionage but from the way the narrative bounds across this fragmenting Europe like a fictional travelogue, an element I felt was less present in Europe at Midnight. On the flipside, Hutch has taken a step back from the surreal weirdness that pervaded Midnight, making Winter a more accessible but less complex read.
Europe in Winter exceeds the previous two volumes in the scope and vision, and in many ways I want to proclaim it the best in the series to date. (Part of me still leans towards the intricately-crafted Europe in Autumn, but it’s a close contest.) This is how you do a proper sequel: fan-favorite Rudi returns as the protagonist, other characters make cameos, the world continues to be fleshed out, and the stakes are raised to perilous new heights right before we’re left on a not-quite-a-cliffhanger finale pointing towards Europe at Dawn. The novel’s plot is a complex puzzle to suss out, and Hutchinson’s dry humor, good characterization, and wonderful setting make it into an addictive, engaging read. This series continues to be one of the most intelligent and rewarding in SF today, and I left Europe in Winter both impressed and satisfied. And, of course, I’m looking forward to what the next volume holds…
Title: Europe in Winter
Author: Dave Hutchinson
First Published: 3 November 2016
What I Read: Solaris ebook
Price I Paid: $5.38 (Kindle)
MSRP: £7.99 pb / $6.99 ebook
ISBN / ASIN: 1781084637 / B01LFM09O8